Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham has said that Labour should be prepared to raise taxes on the rich to pay off the deficit, arguing that for too long the party had been frightened of using the word “tax”.
Speaking at a rally in central London on Monday night, Burnham said Labour had previously been too timid, and repeated pledges to bring the railways into public ownership, scrap charitable status for private schools and replace tuition fees with a graduate tax.
“Let’s have a Labour alternative and a balanced plan for the economy that doesn’t reduce the deficit just by punishing the poorest and most valuable,” said Burnham.
“A balanced plan where Labour isn’t frightened of using a word we haven’t said in recent times. Tax! Why don’t we bring down the deficit by asking people who can to pay more tax.”
Burnham promised a church hall filled with supporters that a Labour party led by him would not propose policies that were “hopeless dreams or pie in the sky”, but that they would “think big again”.
“Labour has spent too long bowing down before the mantra that the market has the answer to everything,” he said.
Labour was highly critical of chancellor George Osborne for reducing the 50p top rate of tax to 45p in 2013 and pledged to bring it back for people earning more than £150,000 a year in the party’s election manifesto.
Labour’s interim leadership dropped its opposition to the policy after July’s budget, but Burnham and fellow leadership candidate Yvette Cooper have both said they would continue to oppose the policy if they led their party.
A week after ballot papers for the Labour leadership election started arriving on people’s doorsteps, Burnham and Cooper are battling to persuade voters away from front-runner Jeremy Corbyn.
Burnham joked on Monday that the race had been going on a long time, but he could still remember a time when he was the favourite.
The shadow health secretary was heckled by audience members demanding to know why he had voted with the party’s leadership and abstained on the welfare bill. Burnham said he had not wanted to lead a rebellion and split the party, adding that they were stronger united.
Introducing Burnham, former deputy prime minister John Prescott said Labour had allowed itself to be “screwed” by Conservative propaganda on the economy.
“We didn’t put any argument up. We constantly argued to the [parliamentary Labour party] and I was told by the two Eds that we were concentrating on the future and not the past,” said Prescott. “We got screwed on the past.”
He said of some of his former cabinet colleagues that they needed to “show a bit more humility when they make their comments about who they would work with or wouldn’t work with”.
Cooper and Kendall have both said they would not serve in a Corbyn-led shadow cabinet.
A string of senior party figures – including Tony Blair, Neil Kinnock, Jack Straw, Gordon Brown, David Blunkett and David Miliband – have issued warnings that a Corbyn win would risk turning the party into a mere pressure group.
Labour will announce the result of its leadership election on 12 September. Under new rules anyone can vote if they pay £3 to register as a supporter, which prompted concerns that the system was being gamed by people who support other parties.
About 400,000 people have become eligible to vote in the contest since the general election, 120,000 of them paying £3 to become registered supporters, swelling the electorate to 600,000.
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 25th August 2015 00.06 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010